Otepaa, Estoina – Justyna Kowalczyk (POL), coming off a strong showing in Whistler, showed no ill effects from the travel, skiing to an impressive 26 second victory in the women’s 10km classic World Cup. Kowalczyk won the 15km pursuit in Whistler, and finished second in the individual sprint. Only a handful of racers from the Whistler events competed in Estonia, and non fared better than Kowalczyk. She held a 4 second lead at the 2.3 km mark and skied away from there.
“Otepää is my best track,” said Kowalczyk after the race. “I really love fighting on the hard track and when you have good skis and a nice crowd it’s wonderful. My tactics were to go as fast as I could, and it was a successful choice. I don’t have very good speed for sprints but I’m in good shape at the moment so tomorrow we will see.”
Overall World Cup leader, Aino Kaisa Saarinen (FIN) finished second, with teammate and Tour de Ski victor, Virpi Kuitunen another 20 seconds back in third. Kowalczyk climbed into third in the overall World Cup standings, 13 points behind Kuitunen and 104 behind Saarinen. The Polish star has scored World Cup points in every event this season except for the pre-Christmas sprint in Dusseldorf.
“Today’s race was a real fight for me, I couldn’t show my best, but to be on the podium with that kind of form is really satisfying,” said Kuitunen. “The week after the Tour de Ski I had to rest, I was only able to swim and do some light exercises to get my heel ok again. Then I had a good training week in Rovaniemi, but did not train very hard before the this race. My main goal is World Championships and it is very important to be healthy in Liberec. I will see after Sunday’s sprint how my heel is doing and then decide whether to go to Rybinsk or not.”
The top 10 featured all the usual suspects in the women’s field. Petra Majdic (SLO) was fourth, 5.2 seconds behind Kuitunen, and Theresse Johaug (NOR) edged teammate Marit Bjoergen by .4 seconds for 5th.
Saarinen did not have her best performance either, saying, “My race today was OK, although I couldn’t get my best speed in the final kilometers, and to show my real power. I can ski better. I expected a podium place and even win, because 10 km classic is my best distance. But Justyna was better today.”
Majdic started slowly, ranking 15th at 2.3 kilometers, but made her way up in the standings as the race progressed. This was Bjoergen’s first World Cup start since a disastrous final climb in the Tour de Ski.
Charlotte Kalla (SWE) appears to be back on track after illness forced her to skip the Tour de Ski. She finished 9th today.
The women’s field has shown much less volatility than the men’s this year, with the same skiers routinely placing in the top 5.
American Kikkan Randall was the lone North American starter, finishing just outside the points in 33rd. She was only 8 seconds out of the 30 in her second distance start of the year. This was Randall’s second-best distance result of her career, behind her 23rd earlier this season. FIS points-wise, the result today was on par with her distance results of last season.
While very few men who raced in Whistler competed today, quite a few women doubled up, Randall included. Kowalczyk was clearly the most successful, but Britta Norgren (SWE) and Kaerina Smutna (AUT) finished 14th and 18th respectively.
Racing continues tomorrow with a 1.2km individual classic sprint. Randall will again be the lone North American representative.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.